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Archive for the ‘Big Government’ Category

When writing about economic policy in Latin America, Chile gets lots of attention because it’s a remarkable story of success.

Similarly, Venezuela gets lots of attention because it’s a remarkable story of failure (with Argentina also deserving condemnation for its downward slide).

But we can also learn from other Latin nations.

For instance, I wrote back in 2016 that Peru was one of the world’s “overlooked success stories” because of a big increase in economic liberty back in the good ol’ days of the Washington Consensus.

The huge increase in economic liberty that began in the mid-1980s has subsequently been followed by a period of stability.

Policy is not perfect in Peru, especially with regards to regulation and the legal system.

But it is #29 in the world according to the most-recent edition of Economic Freedom of the World, which puts the country in the “most free” quartile.

Not bad for a nation that was in the “least free” quartile as recently as 1990 (and among the five-lowest-scoring nations in 1985).

Perhaps more important, the economic liberalization in Peru is paying dividends.

Looking at the Maddison data on per-capita GDP (adjusted for inflation), you can see that living standards have basically doubled this century.

In this case, “not bad” would be an extreme understatement. Peru deserves to be viewed as a success story.

Now for some bad news.

While Peru has made great progress in recent decades, the nation may be on the verge of slipping into Venezuelan-style economic mismanagement following the recent election of Pedro Castillo, who campaigned on a far-left platform.

Surprisingly, the Washington Post has a superb editorial on this topic.

Now, the question is whether Mr. Castillo will seek to undermine…the country’s free market economy, or pursue or a more moderate course. At stake is whether the South American country of 32 million will follow the disastrous example of Venezuela, whose autocratic socialist regime has destroyed its prosperity, or continue what, until the covid-19 pandemic, was a record of steadily rising living standards. …Mr. Castillo, who was nominated by a Marxist-Leninist party founded by a Cuba-educated hardliner, says he is not a Communist. He campaigned on nationalizing the mining companies that are the foundation of the economy and summoning a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, the political tactic pioneered by Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez. But the head of his economics transition team has said there will be no nationalizations, expropriations, or exchange and price controls, and Mr. Castillo has indicated he will leave the conservative president of the central bank in place.Given that the president’s party lacks the parliamentary majority it would need to authorize a new constitution or change foreign investment laws… Venezuela’s implosion, which has caused 5 million people to flee the country for its neighbors — including 1 million in Peru — has demonstrated the consequences of leftist misrule for the region.

Wow, that’s a great defense of free markets that shows a great understanding that statism is a recipe for disaster.

I only wish the Washington Post was similarly concerned about “leftist misrule” in the United States (a.k.a., the Biden-Bernie agenda).

But I’m digressing. For purposes of today’s analysis, let’s simply hope that soon-to-be President Castillo doesn’t wreck Peru’s progress.

After all, we know the recipe for growth and prosperity, so it makes sense to worry when politicians want to do the opposite.

P.S. Let’s similarly hope that Chile’s progress isn’t undone by a new, dirigiste constitution.

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Back in 2009, there was strong and passionate opposition to Bush’s corrupt TARP scheme and Obama’s fake stimulus boondoggle – both of which had price tags of less than $1 trillion.

Today, Biden has already squandered $1.9 trillion on his version of “stimulus” and has asked Congress to expand the federal government’s budgetary burden by another $3.5 trillion (plus about $600 billion for so-called infrastructure).

Yet there doesn’t seem to be the same intensity of opposition, even though Biden is proposing policies that are far more costly.

Is this simply because Republicans were corrupted by Trump’s profligacy and are now comfortable with big government?

Or are they distracted by cultural battles over issues such as critical race theory?

I don’t know, but I’m very worried that insufficient opposition may result in Biden’s dependency agenda getting enacted.

And I’m even more worried because we now know that the left intends to increase the spending burden by a lot more than $3.5 trillion. Especially since Bernie Sanders is Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

The Wall Street Journal opined on this topic a couple of days ago.

Democrats have provided few details of what they plan to include in Sen. Bernie Sanders’s $3.5 trillion budget proposal, and now we know why. The real cost is $5 trillion or more… Their plan is to include every program but start small and pretend they’re temporary. This will let them skirt the budget-reconciliation rule that spending can’t add to the deficit outside a 10-year budget window without triggering a 60-vote threshold to pass. The nonprofit Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget examined the budget outline… Assuming the major provisions will be made permanent and continue through the 10-year budget window, the group says, the “policies under consideration could cost between $5 trillion and $5.5 trillion over a decade.” …All of this false accounting will let Democrats pretend the overall cost of their budget spending is lower than it really is… Any way you add it up, Democrats are attempting to pass the biggest expansion of government since the 1960s with narrow majorities and no electoral mandate. No wonder they want to disguise its real cost.

By the way, it’s not just Democrats who play this game. Some provisions of the Trump tax cut expire in 2025 because Republicans also finagled to get around restrictions that govern the 10-year budget process.

That being said, I don’t think there’s moral equivalency between proposals to let people keep their own money and the Biden-Bernie scheme to buy votes with other people’s money.

Anyhow, here’s the relevant table from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s report.

P.S. This battle is not just an issue of dollars and cents. Some of the Biden-Bernie proposals, such as per-child handouts, would increase dependency by undoing Bill Clinton’s welfare reform.

P.P.S. Don’t forget all the debilitating taxes that will accompany all the new spending.

P.P.P.S. But at least we’ll “catch up” with Europe if Biden-Bernie agenda is enacted.

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Over the past couple of years, one of the most disturbing – and also revealing – things to happen in Washington is when Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed giving more money to people “unwilling to work.”

As discussed in this interview, the left seems to want more dependency.

This is a very unfortunate development. Just four years ago, Joe Biden rejected no-strings-handouts such as “basic income.”

But now he’s proposing a massive expansion of the welfare state, including huge per-child handouts that effectively would repeal Bill Clinton’s very successful welfare reform.

The obvious takeaway is that many politicians in Washington want to create a society where government dependency is normal and desirable.

That may be a good vote-buying strategy, but it has horrible consequences. Both morally and economically.

Let’s address one of the specific issues from the interview.

Regarding bonus unemployment benefits. I warned that we should be careful about over-interpreting short-run data. And that’s especially true because the states providing extra payments for joblessness are generally the states that also had the most onerous lockdown policies during the pandemic.

So, if unemployment is dropping in a state, is it because extra benefits have been cancelled, or is it a result of relaxed lockdown policies? Or is it something else, like lower tax rates?

One obvious way of trying to answer these questions is to ask people why they’re not working.

Here are the results of a recent poll, as reported by Λxios.

About 1.8 million out-of-work Americans have turned down jobs because of the generosity of unemployment insurance benefits, according to Morning Consult poll results released Wednesday. …U.S. businesses have been wrestling with labor supply shortages as folks capable of working have opted not to work for a variety of reasons. … Morning Consult surveyed 5,000 U.S. adults from June 22-25, 2021. Of those actively collecting unemployment benefits, 29% said they turned down job offers during the pandemic. In response to a follow-up question, 45% of that group said they turned down jobs specifically because of the generosity of the benefits.

So our friends on the left tell us that bigger handouts have no adverse economic consequences while the people getting the payments openly admit that they aren’t working because they can live off the taxpayers.

I know which group I believe.

P.S. Both this Wizard-of-Id parody and this cartoon do a great job of showing the economics of incentives.

P.P.S. Since the interview also included some discussion of basic income, here’s a recent study showing how those universal handouts would cripple work incentives.

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I’ve been warning, over and over and over again, that a European-style welfare state means huge tax increases on ordinary people.

Simply stated, there are not enough rich people to finance big government (even Paul Krugman agrees).

This means Joe Biden and Democrats need to make a choice: What matters most, their desire to make government bigger, or their promise not to impose higher taxes on families making less than $400K per year?

We now have the answer to that question, and I hope nobody is surprised to learn that they picked government over taxpayers.

But what is surprising is that they picked the Trump approach of protectionist taxes on global trade.

Here are some excerpts from a report by the New York Times.

Democrats have agreed to include a tax on imports from nations that lack aggressive climate change policies as part of a sweeping $3.5 trillion budget plan… The move to tax imports was made public Wednesday, the same day that the European Union outlined its own proposal for a similar carbon border tax, a novel tool that is designed to protect domestic manufacturing. …skeptics caution that a carbon border tax, which has yet to be implemented by any country, would be difficult to carry out, and could anger trading partners and face a challenge at the World Trade Organization. Unlike the Europeans, who outlined their plan in a 291-page document, Democrats released no details about their tax proposal on Wednesday. Calling it simply a “polluter import fee,” the framework does not explain what would be taxed, at what rate or how much revenue it would expect to generate. …verifying the amount of carbon…produced by foreign manufacturing is tricky, experts say.

It’s always a bad idea to give politicians a new source of revenue.

But it’s a worse idea to give them a new source of revenue that will require bureaucrats to measure the amount of carbon produced by every imported good. As I pointed out a few days ago when discussing the European Union’s version of this protectionist scheme, that’s a huge recipe for cronyism and favoritism.

P.S. I’ll be very curious to see how different international bureaucracies react to these anti-trade proposals. The OECD and IMF, while usually bad on fiscal issues, historically have favored unfettered trade. And the World Trade Organization exists specifically to protect global commerce. But will these organizations now change their position to curry favor with the nations that control their purse strings?

The theory of “public choice” suggests we shouldn’t be optimistic.

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Part I of this series looked at socialism’s track record of failure, while Part II pointed out that greater levels of socialism lead to greater levels of misery.

For Part III, let’s start with this video on the economics of socialism.

If the world was governed by logic, there would be no need to address this topic for a third time.

After all, the evidence is overwhelming that capitalism (oops, I mean free enterprise) does a better job than socialism.

But it seems that we don’t live in a logical world. We have too many people who have an anti-empirical belief in bigger government.

And, if the polling data is accurate, the problem seems especially acute with young people.

I’ve wondered whether sub-par government schools are part of the problem. Are they mis-educating kids?

I don’t know if that was a problem in the past, but Richard Rahn warns in the Washington Times that it will probably be a problem in the future.

Recent polls have shown rising support for socialism and an increasingly negative view of capitalism, particularly among the young.  …Most of those who say they support socialism are probably unaware that it has failed every place and time that it has been tried. …They may also not be aware that socialism relies on coercion to function… By contrast, capitalism relies on the voluntary exchange of goods and services… Last week at the NEA’s annual meeting, the delegates demanded that the union issue a study criticizing, among many things, “capitalism.” Has anyone thought through the alternatives – a system based on slavery or serfdom…? Under capitalism, investment and productive labor are allocated by individual consumer choice. …Under socialism, there is no good mechanism for meeting consumer demand; the socialist leaders decide what the people should have. There is no mechanism for creating and encouraging innovation – that is why socialist states normally only produce something new after it has already been produced in a capitalist country… So why then are the teachers’ unions advocating that capitalism be attacked, and socialism be applauded? The answer is simple, willful ignorance.

I’ve always supported school choice because I want better educational outcomes, especially for poor and minority students.

In recent months, I’ve wondered we also need school choice because of what teacher unions are doing on issues such as critical race theory and school re-openings.

Now it seems we need choice simply to protect kids from the risk of being propagandized.

P.S. Or protect kids from nonsensical forms of discipline.

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President Biden pushed through $1.9 trillion of new spending earlier this year, but that so-called stimulus plan was mostly for one-time giveaways. As I warn in this recent discussion on Denver’s KHOW, we should be much more worried about his proposals to permanently expand the welfare state.

When I first got to Washington, I would be upset that politicians wanted to add billions of dollars to the burden of government.

Well, those were the good ol’ days. Biden is proposing to divert trillions of dollars from the private sector to expand the welfare state.

Even worse, he wants to make more Americans dependent on the federal government.

Maybe that’s a smart way of buying votes, but it will erode societal capital.

John Cogan and Daniel Heil of the Hoover Institution warned about the consequences of this dependency agenda in a column for the Wall Street Journal.

The federal government’s system of entitlements is the largest money-shuffling machine in human history, and President Biden intends to make it a lot bigger. His American Families Plan—which he recently attempted to tie to a bipartisan infrastructure deal—proposes to extend the reach of federal entitlements to 21 million additional Americans, the largest expansion since Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. …more than half of working-age households would be on the entitlement rolls if the plan were enacted in its current form. …57% of all married-couple children would receive federal entitlement benefits, and more than 80% of single-parent households would be on the entitlement rolls.

Many of the handouts would go to people with middle-class incomes.

And higher.

…The American Families Plan proposes several new entitlement programs. One promises students the government will pick up the entire cost of community-college tuition; another promises families earning 1.5 times their state’s median income that Washington will cover all daycare expenses above 7% of family income for children under 5; still another promises workers up to 12 weeks of federally financed wage subsidies to take time off to care for newborns or sick family members. …Two-parent households with two preschool-age children and incomes up to $130,000 would qualify for federal cash assistance for daycare. Single parents with two preschoolers and incomes up to $113,000 would qualify. And some families with incomes over $200,000 would be eligible for health-insurance subsidies. Other parts of the plan, such as paid leave and free community college, have no income limits at all.

The Wall Street Journal opined on this issue last month. Here are the key passages from their editorial.

The entitlements are by far the biggest long-term economic threat from the Biden agenda. …entitlements that spend automatically based on eligibility are nearly impossible to repeal, or even reform, and they represent a huge tax-and-spend wedge far into the future. …We’d highlight two points. First is the dishonesty about costs. Entitlements always start small but then soar. The Biden Families Plan is even more dishonest than usual. For example, it pretends the child tax credit ends in 2025, so its cost is $449 billion over the 10-year budget window that is used for reconciliation bills that require only 51 votes to pass the Senate. But a future Congress will never repeal the credit. …Second, these programs aren’t intended as a “safety net” for the poor or those temporarily down on their luck. They are explicitly designed to make the middle class dependent on government handouts.

The editorial explicitly warns that the United States will economically suffer if politicians copy Europe’s counterproductive redistributionism.

…on present trend the U.S. is falling into the same entitlement trap as Western Europe. Entitlement spending requires higher taxes, which grab 40% or more of GDP. Economic growth declines as more money flows to transfer payments instead of investment. The entitlement state becomes too large to afford but also too politically entrenched to reform. …Only a decade ago the Tea Party fought ObamaCare. Now most Beltway conservatives worry more about Big Tech than they do Big Government. If the Biden Families Plan passes, these conservatives will find themselves spending the rest of their careers as tax collectors for the entitlement state.

Amen. I’m baffled when folks on the left argue that we should “catch up” with Europe.

Are they not aware that American living standards are far higher? Do they not understand that low-income people in the United States often have more income than middle-class people on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean?

P.S. As I mentioned in the interview, the 21st century has been bad news for fiscal policy, with two big-government Republicans and two big-government Democrats.

For what it’s worth, the $3,000-per-child handouts are Biden’s most damaging idea. In one fell swoop, he would create a trillion-dollar entitlement program and repeal the successful Clinton-Gingrich welfare reform.

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I’m not optimist about America’s fiscal future. Thanks primarily to entitlement programs, the long-run outlook shows an ever-increasing burden of government spending.

And rather than hit the brakes, Biden wants to step on the gas with new giveaways, especially his plan to gut Bill Clinton’s welfare reform by creating new per-child handouts that would subsidize idleness and family dissolution.

But that doesn’t mean the problems can’t be fixed. We simply need to replace fiscal profligacy with spending restraint.

To set the stage for this discussion, here’s a look at what’s happened to the budget over the past several decades.  You can see how the burden of federal spending has steadily increased, with noticeable one-time bumps in 2008-2009 (TARP and Obama’s so-called stimulus) and 2020-2021 (coronavirus).

The chart also includes projections between 2021 and 2031, based on new numbers from the Congressional Budget Office.

For today’s column, I want to focus on the next 10 years and show how the current fiscal mess can be averted with some modest spending restraint.

This second chart shows that spending actually drops over the next two years as coronavirus-related spending comes to an end. But once we get to 2023, the orange line shows that “baseline” spending (what happens to the budget if things are left on autopilot) climbs rapidly, more than twice the rate needed to keep pace with inflation.

But if there’s any sort of fiscal restraint (a freeze or some sort of spending cap), then the numbers look much better.

More specifically, a freeze or a 1-percent spending cap would actually produce a budget surplus by the year 2031.

But I’m not fixated on getting to a balanced budget. What’s more important is that the burden of government spending shrinks when the budget grows slower than the private sector.

In other words, we get good results when policy makers follow fiscal policy’s Golden Rule.

P.S. While it’s difficult to convince politicians to support spending restraint, it’s worth noting that the nation enjoyed a five-year spending freeze between 2009-2014.

P.P.S. In the long run, a spending freeze almost certainly requires genuine entitlement reform.

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Back in 2009 and 2010, when I had less gray hair, I narrated a four-part series on the economic burden of government spending.

Here’s Part II, which discusses the theoretical reasons why big government reduces prosperity.

I provide eight examples to illustrate how and why government spending can hinder economic growth.

The last item is what I called the “stagnation cost,” which is the tendency of politicians and bureaucrats to throw good money after bad because there is no incentive to adapt.

When giving speeches, I usually refer to this as the “inertia cost.”

But, regardless of what I call it, I explain that every government program has a group of beneficiaries that are strongly motivated to keep their gravy train moving even if money is being wasted.

And since politicians like getting votes from those beneficiaries, it’s very difficult to derail programs.

In an article for National Review, Sean-Michael Pigeon offers one very plausible explanation for why this happens.

He says politicians fall victim to the fallacy of sunk costs.

…we need an understanding of government inefficiency… One reason government spending is so needlessly costly is somewhat paradoxical: The state is wasteful precisely because people are so concerned about wasting money. …This is a classic sunk-cost fallacy: Costs that can’t be recovered are “sunk,” and therefore irrelevant for future decision-making. But while this fallacy is well known in economics, sunk costs are a big deal in the practical world of politics. Nobody wants to waste money, and politicians don’t want to cause waste directly. No member of Congress wants to be publicly responsible for a half-built bridge, especially when they have to tell taxpayers they still have to foot the bill for it. …Congress’s unwillingness to cut the funding of poorly run projects is a significant reason government projects always spend too much. …Politicians are nervous about cutting ongoing projects because they don’t want to leave taxpayers empty-handed, but stomaching sunk costs is worth it. Not only is it economically sound to stop government agencies from bleeding money, but it also sets the precedent that shoddy work will be held accountable. …to save money, sometimes you have to lose money.

In other words, it would be good to stop the bleeding.

But that’s not politically easy. Mr. Pigeon has examples in his column, but he should have included California’s (supposed) high-speed rail project.

That boondoggle has been draining money from state and federal coffers for about a decade. Cost estimates have exploded (something that almost always happens with government projects), yet construction has barely started.

Yet now Biden wants to increase federal subsidies for that money pit, along with other long-distance rail schemes.

And you won’t be surprised that a big argument from supporters is that we’ve already wasted billions and billions of dollars on the project, so therefore we should continue to waste even more money (sort of like hitting yourself on the head with a hammer because it feels good when you stop).

The big-picture bottom line is that the burden of federal spending should be reduced so that politicians have less ability to waste money.

And that also means that Americans will be able to enjoy more growth and more prosperity.

The targeted bottom line is that we should get Washington out of infrastructure.

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California is a fascinating state for people who follow public policy. It has some immense advantages, such as climate, coastline, and natural resources.

But it also has high taxes, absurd regulations, a bloated bureaucracy, and a costly welfare state.

The net result of all these factors is mixed. There are some sectors that are still thriving, such as high tech, but there’s also evidence that the Golden State is losing ground.

And the comparative data will probably get worse over time because many taxpayers and businesses are now fleeing to lower-tax states.

Since I specialize in public finance, I’m tempted to say bad fiscal policy is California’s biggest problem. And that may actually be the case.

But if someone asks me for an example of what’s wrong with the Golden State, I’m going to direct them to this story in the Los Angeles Times.

The California Legislature on Monday approved a $100-million plan to bolster California’s legal marijuana industry, which continues to struggle to compete with the large illicit pot market nearly five years after voters approved sales for recreational use. …State officials initially expected to license as many as 6,000 cannabis shops in the first few years, but permits have been issued only for 1,086 retail and delivery firms. In 2019, industry officials estimated there were nearly three times as many unlicensed businesses as ones with state permits. …The $100 million would go to local agencies with the most provisional licenses for growing, manufacturing, distribution, testing and retail operations. Some of the money can be used by cities offering equity funding to cannabis businesses owned by people of color.

Yes, you read correctly.

The state did a smart thing (removing legal prohibitions on marijuana), but did it in the worst possible way (burdening the sector with high taxes and red tape).

As a result, there’s still a very robust black market.

Here are some additional details about how politicians and bureaucrats have made it difficult to operate a legal business.

Many cannabis growers, retailers and manufacturers have struggled to make the transition from a provisional, temporary license to a permanent one renewed on an annual basis — a process that requires a costly, complicated and time-consuming review. …some face two to four years to get through the licensing process. Many would face the prospect of shutting down, at least temporarily, if they don’t get a regular license by current state deadlines, Kiloh said. …Supporters of legalization blame the discrepancy on problems that they say include high taxes on licensed businesses, burdensome regulations… A key requirement to convert from a provisional license is to conduct a CEQA review to indicate how pot farms and other cannabis businesses will affect the surrounding water, air, plants and wildlife, and to propose ways to mitigate any harms. However, Kiloh said, some cities are just setting up ordinances and staffing to process licenses, meaning many businesses cannot meet the looming deadline. …industry officials note the money will go to a small fraction of California cities, and only those that have already decided to allow cannabis businesses. …said Kiloh, owner of the Higher Path cannabis store in Sherman Oaks. “The real problem is CEQA analysis is a very arduous process,” he added. “I think it would be good to have more reform of the licensing system instead of just putting money to it.”

Wow, provisional licenses, permanent licenses, CEQA analysis, taxes, regulations, reviews, and ordinances.

Sounds like my regulatory obstacle course. No wonder so many buyers and sellers of pot prefer the black market.

And Mr. Kiloh is correct. The solution is to deregulate, not to dump more money into the system.

No wonder California is a mess.

P.S. The late (and great) Walter Williams joking speculated whether California should set up East German-style border controls to prevent taxpayers from escaping.

P.P.S. There is a pro-secession group in California, though they should be careful what they wish for.

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Politicians and bureaucrats are (self-interested) conduits for taking money from one group of people and giving it to another group of people.

Milton Friedman famously explained that this is why they largely don’t care about how much money is spent or how effectively it is spent.

No wonder government programs, agencies, and departments waste so much money, year after year, decade after decade.

This observation about careless profligacy also applies to so-called emergency spending.

I’ve repeatedly written about the perverse impact of unemployment benefits that are so excessive that people have big incentives not to work.

But that’s just one problem with that program. Axios has a depressing report on how the turbo-charged benefits that were part of the coronavirus legislation triggered staggering levels of fraud.

Criminals may have stolen as much as half of the unemployment benefits the U.S. has been pumping out over the past year, some experts say. …fraud during the pandemic could easily reach $400 billion, according to some estimates, and the bulk of the money likely ended in the hands of foreign crime syndicates… Blake Hall, CEO of ID.me, a service that tries to prevent this kind of fraud, tells Axios that…50% of all unemployment monies might have been stolen… Haywood Talcove, the CEO of LexisNexis Risk Solutions, estimates that at least 70% of the money stolen by impostors ultimately left the country, much of it ending up in the hands of criminal syndicates in China, Nigeria, Russia and elsewhere.

USA Today reported on one Nigerian scammer who feasted on American tax dollars.

Mayowa is an engineering student in Nigeria who estimates he’s made about $50,000 since the pandemic began. After compiling a list of real people, he turns to databases of hacked information that charge $2 in cryptocurrency to link that name to a date of birth and Social Security number. In most states that information is all it takes to file for unemployment. …“Once we have that information, it’s over,” Mayowa said. “It’s easy money.” …prepaid debit cards issued by some state unemployment offices paved the way for fraud this year, security experts said. …Asked whether he feels bad about stealing from unemployed Americans, Mayowa pointed out that 70% of his peers in school are working the scams as side hustles, too.

But it’s not just the unemployment benefits.

The government also has been sending out “stimulus” checks to people, even if they were employed all during the pandemic.

And they didn’t even need to be alive, according to a report from CNS.

The federal government sent nearly 1.2 million “economic impact payments” authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to people who were dead and, therefore, not qualified to receive them, according to a report published today by the Government Accountability Office. …On its website, the IRS describes individuals who are not eligible for an “Economic Impact Payment”… “Taxpayers likely won’t qualify for an Economic Impact Payment if any of the following apply: … You can be claimed a dependent on someone else’s return. … You are a nonresident alien. … An incarcerated individual. A deceased individual.”

Hundreds of foreigners also got handouts, as reported by the Washington Post.

Hundreds of people have cashed U.S. stimulus checks at Austrian banks in recent months. Some of them appeared puzzled by the unexpected payments or were ineligible for the payouts, according to bank officials and Austrian media reports. …He and his wife received $1,200 each, although neither is a U.S. resident or holds U.S. citizenship — key eligibility requirements. …Similar instances have been reported in other countries.

By the way, it’s not just Austrians who received handouts. NPR has a story featuring people all over the world who got $1200 checks from Uncle Sam.

And let’s not forget the PPP program, which was another big chunk of the coronavirus handouts.

The Wall Street Journal has a report on the rampant fraud in that program.

The federal government is swamped with reports of potential fraud in the Paycheck Protection Program, according to government officials and public data…the government allowed companies to self-certify that they needed the funds, with little vetting. The Small Business Administration’s inspector general, an arm of the agency that administers the PPP, said last month there were “strong indicators of widespread potential abuse and fraud in the PPP.” …The watchdog counted tens of thousands of companies that received PPP loans for which they appear to have been ineligible, such as corporations created after the pandemic began… Given the limited criteria Congress set for the program, he said, “The scandal is what’s legal, not what’s illegal.”

Reason also has a story about PPP waste.

…carmaker Lamborghini has benefitted from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)… Within days of receiving $1.6 million in PPP loans for his construction and logistics businesses, Lee Price III of Houston bought himself a 2019 Lamborghini Urus for $233,337, plus a $14,000 Rolex watch and close to $5,000 worth of entertainment at a strip club and various bars around town. …His scheme was audacious but hardly original. The DOJ had already brought similar fraud charges against Miami man David T. Hines, who had allegedly spent his ill-gotten PPP loans on a new $318,000 Lamborghini Huracán EVO. …Loan recipients include companies founded by members of Congress and prominent D.C. lobbying firms. Presidential adviser Jared Kushner’s family businesses, including their media and real estate concerns, received PPP loans, as did the clothing brand of rapper and aspiring president Kanye West.

We already knew that the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a bigger burden of government.

None of us should be surprised that we also wound up with record levels of waste.

P.S. Remember, “more government” is not the answer to any sensible question.

P.P.S. At some point, we will run out of “other people’s money.”

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Between March 2020 and January 2021, I authored a five-part series (see here, here, here, here, and here) on how big government hindered a quick and effective response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In this discussion with Brad Polumbo, I summarize some of my key points.

While I criticized the dismal performance of the FDACDC, and WHO, I also explained that there are costs and benefits to any approach.

I largely focus on the deleterious impact of government regulation and intervention, but I mentioned in the discussion that a laissez-faire approach has potential downsides.

My argument is simply that markets, on balance, will produce better outcomes.

For instance, Brad and I discussed how government regulators at the Food and Drug Administration did something good many decades ago by prohibiting thalidomide (which led to birth defects), but we also mentioned that academic research shows that our regulatory apparatus – on net – leads to bad outcomes because of lengthy delays in life-saving and live-improving drugs.

And we shouldn’t forget that the current system makes drugs far more expensive.

There are two other parts of the interview that merit special attention.

  • First, I mention that private companies should be allowed to require “vaccine passports.” I’m not saying they should, but I believe in property rights so it’s not the role of politicians to interfere in that choice.
  • Second, politicians should have adopted a more hands-off approach to mandatory lockdowns. This is not an argument against social distancing, masking, and other prudent behaviors, but mandates were largely unnecessary (and, in the case of what stores were allowed to operate, pointlessly discriminatory).

And I should have mentioned that politicians often didn’t follow the rules that they imposed on the rest of us.

P.S. The silver lining to the pandemic’s dark cloud is that we got some clever humor (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

P.P.S. Actually, there’s a second silver lining. There’s been a lot of progress on school choice this year, which is partly a response to the self-serving actions of the government school monopoly during the pandemic.

P.P.P.S. There may even be a third silver lining. As mentioned in the discussion, I’m slightly hopeful that politicians and bureaucrats have learned that we need to set aside regulations and red tape, at least during emergencies. Heck, maybe they’ll even apply that lesson more broadly!

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Back in 2016, I created a 2×2 matrix to illustrate the difference between redistributionism (tax Person A and give to Person B) and state planning (politicians and bureaucrats trying to steer the economy, either through direct ownership or industrial policy).

The main point of that column was to show that countries should try to be in the top-left section, where there is less redistribution and less government control.

But I also wanted to help people understand that redistributionism and socialism are not the same thing.

For instance, Sweden (in the bottom-left box) is a capitalist economy with a big welfare state, whereas China (in the top-right box) doesn’t have much redistribution but government has substantial control over economic activity.

From an American perspective, the good news is that the U.S. currently is in the top-left box.

The bad news is that President Biden wants the country in the bottom-left box. So, if we want to be technically accurate, we should not accuse him of socialism.

Instead, as Antony Davies and James Harrigan explained in a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, the real threat to the nation is “transferism.”

Socialism is state control of the means of production. …By contrast, capitalism is simply private ownership of the means of production. …more than four in ten Americans think “some form of socialism” is a good thing. But what is “some form of socialism?” A society is either socialist or it isn’t. The state either owns the means of production or it doesn’t. There is no middle ground. …It appears that what Americans really have in mind when they think about socialism is not an economic system but particular economic outcomes. …they are advocating what we should really call “transferism.” Transferism is a system in which one group of people forces a second group to pay for things that the people believe they, or some third group, should have. Transferism isn’t about controlling the means of production. It is about the forced redistribution of what’s produced.

Davies and Harrigan are correct.

Moreover, they deserve credit for predicting the future since they wrote the column in 2019!

Now let’s consider whether redistributionism (or transferism) is a good idea.

I’ve previously explained that a big welfare state causes economic damage, even if a nation otherwise is very pro-capitalist.

Consider, for instance, the remarkable data showing how Swedish-Americans and Danish-Americans generate much more prosperity than Swedes and Danes who still live in Scandinavia.

Or consider the income data showing how average Americans enjoy much higher living standards than their European counterparts (either in Nordic nations or elsewhere).

What’s worrisome is that Biden wants a much bigger welfare state and he doesn’t seem to understand that European-sized government means anemic European-style economic performance.

This is the message that Bret Stephens shared in one of his recent columns for the New York Times.

He starts by describing Biden’s agenda.

President Biden charts a course toward the largest expansion of government since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. After signing a $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill in March and proposing a $1.5 trillion discretionary budget in April (a 16 percent increase from this year, on top of what’s likely to be at least $3 trillion in mandatory spending on programs like Medicare and Medicaid), the president wants $2.3 trillion more for infrastructure and $1.8 trillion for new social programs. That’s $7.5 trillion in discretionary spending. To put the number in perspective, we spent $4.1 trillion in inflation-adjusted dollars over nearly four years to wage and win the Second World War. What will America get for the money?

He then points out the potential consequences.

…before the U.S. takes this leap into a full-blown American social-welfare state, moderates in Congress like Senator Joe Manchin or Representative Jim Costa ought to ask: What’s the catch? …The real catch is that massive government spending has hidden costs that are difficult to capture in numbers alone. Take another look at Europe. Why does R&D spending in the European Union persistently lag that in the U.S. …Why does Europe’s tech start-up scene…so notably lag its competitors…? Perhaps…social safety nets typically come at the expense of risk-taking and economic dynamism. And why is France, which, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, spends more on social welfare than any other nation in the developed world, such an unhappy place, with chronically high unemployment, endless labor unrest, a decades-old brain drain, rising political extremism, a wealth tax that failed and a medical system that was on the brink of collapse long before Covid struck? …Beyond the gargantuan cost, Congress should think very hard about the real catch: transforming America into a kinder, gentler place of permanent decline.

Amen.

Biden’s agenda inevitably will erode societal capital, leading to less work (because of lavish freebies such as per-child handouts) and lower levels of entrepreneurship (because of tax penalties on investment and risk-taking).

And this can lead to a tipping point, which is illustrated by my Theorem of Societal Collapse.

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While Paul Krugman sometimes misuses and misinterprets numbers for ideological reasons (see his errors regarding the United States, France, Canada, the United States, Estonia, Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom), he isn’t oblivious to reality.

At least not totally.

He’s acknowledged, for instance, that there is a Laffer Curve and that tax rates can become so onerous that tax revenues actually decline.

Now he’s had another encounter with the real world.

In a column that was mostly a knee-jerk defense of Biden’s class-warfare tax policy, Krugman confessed yesterday that big government ultimately means big tax increases for lower-income and middle-class people.

…is trying to “build back better” by taxing only the very affluent feasible? Is it wise? …There’s a good case that the kind of society progressives want us to become, with a very strong social safety net, can’t be paid for just by taxing the rich. A country like Denmark, for example, does have a high top tax rate… But Denmark also has very high middle-class taxation, in particular a 25 percent value-added tax, effectively a national sales tax. …the fact that even the Nordic countries feel compelled to raise a lot of money from the middle class suggests that there are limits…to how much you can raise just by taxing the rich. So if you want Medicare for all, Nordic levels of support for child care and families in general, and so on, just raising taxes on the 400K-plus elite won’t get you there.

It may not happen often, but Krugman is completely correct.

European-sized government requires European-style taxes on everyone. And that means a big value-added tax, as Krugman notes. And it almost certainly also means big energy taxes, higher payroll taxes, and much higher income tax rates on middle-class taxpayers.

This chart from Brian Riedl shows that government spending already was on track to become a bigger burden for the American economy, and Biden is proposing to go even faster in the wrong direction.

The growing gap between the blue lines and red lines implies giant tax increases. At the risk of understatement, there’s no way to finance that ever-expanding government by just pillaging upper-income taxpayers.

By the way, Krugman is right about big government leading to higher taxes on ordinary people, but he’s wrong about the desirability of that outcome.

He wants us to think that big government means a “better America,” but all the economic data tells a different story. A bigger fiscal burden means much lower living standards.

P.S. If you want another example of Krugman being right on a fiscal issue, click here.

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When I debate public policy with leftists, I frequently stump them by asking for an example of a country where their ideas have worked.

They get flummoxed for the simple reason that no nation has ever become rich with big government.

There are some rich nations that have big governments, to be sure, but they all became rich in the 1800s and early 1900s, back when government was a tiny burden (and there often were no income taxes).

That’s true for the United States. And it’s true for Western Europe.

It’s also worth noting that places that have become rich in the modern era, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, have small governments and low tax burdens.

I’m making these points because Jim Tankersley of the New York Times has a thorough article on the Biden Administration’s budgetary philosophy.

And that philosophy is based on a completely different perspective. Indeed, the headline and subtitle are a very good summary of the entire article.

Here are some passages that further capture the Biden approach.

President Biden’s $6 trillion budget bets on the power of government to propel workers, families and businesses to new heights of prosperity…by redistributing income and wealth from high earners and corporations to grow the middle class. …it sets the nation on a new and higher spending path, with total federal outlays rising to $8.2 trillion by 2031… That spending represents an attempt to expand the size and scope of federal engagement in Americans’ daily lives… Mr. Biden also seeks to expand the government safety net in an effort to help Americans — particularly women of all races and men of color — work and earn more, rather than relying on corporate America to funnel higher wages to workers. …Mr. Biden is pushing what amounts to a permanent increase in the size of the federal footprint on the U.S. economy. Since 1980, annual federal spending has been, on average, about one-fifth the size of the nation’s economic output; under Mr. Biden’s plans, that would grow to close to one-fourth.

The article is definitely correct about one thing. As I wrote yesterday, Biden wants a big expansion of government spending.

But is he correct about the consequences? Will bigger government “help Americans” and allow more of them to “enjoy prosperity”?

If the evidence from Europe is any indication, adopting bigger welfare states is not a recipe for more prosperity.

For instance, OECD data on “actual individual consumption” show that people in the United States enjoy much higher living standards than their counterparts on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

There’s also very powerful data showing that poor Americans (those at the 20th percentile) have higher living standards than most middle-class Europeans.

There’s even data showing that very poor Americans (those at the 10th percentile) have living standards equal to most middle-class Europeans.

The bottom line is that Biden wants higher taxes and more redistribution, but that’s been a big failure in the part of the world that has tried that approach.

Not that we should be surprised. Both theory and evidence tell us that bigger government is bad for prosperity.

P.S. There’s a very sobering example of what happens when a rich nation decides to dramatically curtail economic liberty.

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There are many things to dislike about President Biden’s budget plan to expand the burden of government.

There will be ample opportunity to write about these issues in the coming weeks. For today, however, let’s identify and highlight the biggest problem.

Simply stated, Biden wants to permanently and significantly increase the burden of government spending. Here’s a chart, based on data from Table S.1 of the President’s budget, augmented by data from Table 1.3 of the Budget’s Historical Tables.

The budget had reached $4 trillion before the pandemic. It then skyrocketed for coronavirus-related spending.

But now that the emergency is receding, Biden is not going to let the burden of government fall back to prior levels. Instead, he’s proposing a $6 trillion budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

And that’s just the starting point. He wants spending to then climb rapidly – at almost twice the rate of inflation – up to $8 trillion by 2031.

By the way, this horrifying data doesn’t tell the entire story.

Biden’s budget doesn’t include some of his new spending giveaways. Brian Riedl addressed this fiscal gimmickry in a column for today’s New York Post.

…this budget does not even include additional spending and debt proposals that are coming later. …They account only for the recently-enacted “stimulus,” a massive discretionary spending hike, and the trillions in (creatively-defined) “infrastructure” spending proposed by the President over the past two months. However, during last fall’s campaign, Biden also proposed trillions in new spending for health care, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, climate change, college aid, and other priorities. The White House has signaled that these new spending initiatives are still in the pipeline. Including these forthcoming proposals, the President would push spending and deficits far above any levels that have ever been sustained.

And don’t forget all this spending, both proposed and in the pipeline, is in addition to all the entitlement spending that is going to burden the economy over the next several decades.

Here’s one final point to underscore and emphasize the radical nature of Biden’s budget.

I’ve taken the previous chart and added a trendline showing what spending would be if Biden has simply followed the trajectory based on the actual spending levels of every President from Carter to Trump.

In other words, we’re looking at trillions of dollars of additional money being diverted from the productive sector of the economy and being put under the control of politicians and bureaucrats.

That does not bode well for American prosperity. Even the Congressional Budget Office recognizes this means lower living standards for our nation.

The bottom line is that if you adopt European-style fiscal policy, you get anemic European-style levels of income.

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Last year, I compared the economic performance of red states and blue states.

My big takeaway from that column is that we should pay attention to the data on internal migration. More specifically, there’s a reason why Americans have been moving from high-tax states to low-tax states.

Today’s let’s follow up on that discussion.

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an editorial on the gap between blue states and red states. This accompanying illustration shows that there is a clear relationship between joblessness and the degree to which states pursue big-government policies.

And here’s how the WSJ explained the big differences.

The unemployment rate in April nationwide was 6.1%, but this obscures giant variations in the states. With some exceptions, those run by Democrats such as California (8.3%) and New York (8.2%) continued to suffer significantly higher unemployment than those led by Republicans such as South Dakota (2.8%) and Montana (3.7%). It’s rare to see differences that are so stark based on party control in states. But the current partisan differences reflect different policy choices over the length and severity of pandemic lockdowns and now government benefits such as jobless insurance. Nine of the 10 states with the lowest unemployment rates are led by Republicans. The exception is Wisconsin whose Supreme Court last May invalidated Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’s lockdown. …Most states in the Midwest, South and Mountain West aren’t far off their pre-pandemic employment peaks. One obstacle to a faster recovery may be the $300 federal unemployment bonus, which many GOP governors are rejecting. Meantime, states with Democratic governments continue to reward workers for sitting on the couch. The longer that workers stay unemployed, the harder it will be to get them to return to work.

For what it’s worth, I’m more upset about the subsidized unemployment than the differences in lockdown policies, particularly because the former is more indicative of economic illiteracy.

P.S. One of the worst parts of Biden’s waste-filled stimulus plan is that it gave a big bailout for states, based on a formula that actually rewarded them for having bad numbers.

P.P.S. Click here and here if you want to peruse comprehensive measures of state economic policy.

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I’ve shared all sorts of online quizzes that supposedly can detect things such as whether you’re a pure libertarian.

Or even whether you’re a communist.

Today, courtesy of the folks at the Committee for a Responsible Budget, you can agree or disagree with 24 statements to determine your “budget personality.”

I have some quibbles about some of the wording (for instance, I couldn’t answer “neither” when asked to react to: “The government should spend more money on children than on seniors”).

But I can’t quibble with the results. Given the potential outcomes, I’m glad to be a “Minimalist” who is “in favor of smaller government.”

Though I’m disappointed that I apparently didn’t get a perfect score on “Size of Government.”

And I need to explain why I got a mediocre score on the topic of “Fiscal Responsibility.”

The budget geeks at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) have a well-deserved reputation for rigorous analysis. I regularly cite their numbers and appreciate the work that they do.

That being said, they mistakenly focus on deficits and debt when the real problem is too much government.

I agree with Milton Friedman, who wisely observed that ““I would rather have government spend one trillion dollars with a deficit of a half a trillion dollars than have government spend two trillion dollars with no deficit.”

The folks at CRFB would disagree.

Indeed, they are so fixated on red ink that they would welcome tax increases.

At the risk of understatement, that would be a very bad approach.

The evidence from Europe shows that higher taxes simply lead to higher spending. And more debt.

Indeed, Milton Friedman also commented on this issue, warning that, “History shows that over a long period of time government will spend whatever the tax system raises plus as much more as it can get away with.”

The bottom line is that CRFB not only has the wrong definition of “Fiscal Responsibility,” but they also support policies that would make matters worse – even from their perspective!

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The United States has a big economic advantage over Europe in part because the burden of welfare spending is lower.

This means fewer people trapped in government dependency in America. And it means a smaller tax burden in America.

But some of our friends on the left think it is bad news that the United States isn’t more like Europe.

They want more redistribution in America and they may get their wish if Congress approves Biden’s so-called American Families Plan.

The Economist has an article about Biden’s radical proposal, which would, as they correctly note, “Europeanise the American welfare state.”

President Joe Biden is proposing an ambitious reweaving of the American safety-net, which the White House says will cost $1.8trn. The American Families Plan has bits of the European welfare state that have long been missing in the country—a child allowance, paid family leave, universal pre-school, subsidised child care and free community college—but contains no reference to work requirements. …So how did Democrats go from Clintonism—which implicitly conceded the Reaganite critique that too much governmental assistance is a very bad thing—to its present-day unconcern about (even relish for) deficit-financed expansions of the safety-net?

Here are some of the specific details from the story, including discussion of Biden’s plan for per-child handouts.

This would bring America more in line with the rest of the developed world: the average government spending on benefits such as child allowances, family leave and early education is 2.1% of GDP in the OECD club of mostly rich countries. In America, it is just 0.6%. …A generous child allowance is the main anti-poverty tool in most rich countries—and also one that America lacks. One such scheme was created this year as part of the covid-19 relief bill that the president signed in March. It will pay most families $3,000 per year per child ($3,600 for young children)… The president’s plan proposes to extend these payments until 2025. Some Democrats think they should simply be made permanent.

The Wall Street Journal opined about Biden’s plan last month.

It’s more accurate to call this the plan to make the middle class dependent on government from cradle to grave. The government will tell you sometime later, after you’re hooked to the state, how it will force you to pay for it. We’d call the price tag breathtaking, but by now what’s another $2 trillion? …But the cost, while staggering, isn’t the only or even the biggest problem. The destructive part is the way the plan seeks to insinuate government cash and the rules that go with it into all of the major decisions of family life. The goal is to expand the entitlement state to make Americans rely on government and the political class for everything they don’t already provide. …This is now about mainlining benefits to middle-class families so they become addicted to government—and to the Democratic Party that has become the promoting agent of government.

I agree with the WSJ. Biden wants to create more dependency, even if that means eviscerating Bill Clinton’s very successful welfare reform.

For my contribution to this discussion, I want to make two points about the practical implications of Biden’s plan to “Europeanise” the United States.

First, it is impossible to have a European-sized government without massive tax increases. And since there aren’t enough rich people to finance big government, that inevitably means low-income and middle-class taxpayers will have to be hit with much bigger fiscal burdens. Which is exactly what has happened in Europe (and lots of honest people on the left openly admit a bigger welfare state would require similar policies in the United States).

Second, it is impossible to have a European-sized government and still maintain a big economic advantage over Europe. Higher spending and higher taxes will combine to reduce work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship. Simply stated, European fiscal policy will lead to European economic results, and that will be very bad news for ordinary Americans since living standards are 30 percent-40 percent lower on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s also worth noting that the United States ranks very high in societal capital, and that presumably will erode if more people are lured into government dependency.

P.S. Biden used to oppose a government-guaranteed income, correctly realizing it would undermine the work ethic.

P.P.S. The United States already faces a huge long-run challenge because of entitlement spending, so it’s remarkable – in a bad way – that Biden wants to step on the gas rather than hit the brakes.

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Government breeds corruption by giving sleazy people a way of obtaining unearned wealth. Politicians and special interests are the winners and workers, consumers, and taxpayers are the losers.

It’s easy to find examples. Simply look at tax policy, spending policy, regulatory policy, energy policy, industrial policy, agricultural policy, foreign policy, health policy, trade policy, drug policy, and bailout policy. Or anything else involving politicians and their cronies.

Hmmm…, I wonder if there’s a lesson to be learned from that list?

But just in case some people are slow learners, let’s consider some new scholarly research from the Federal Reserve.

The study, authored by Joonkyu Choi, Veronika Penciakova, and Felipe Saffie, explores whether companies that give cash to politicians are then rewarded with cash from taxpayers.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was enacted in the midst of the Great Recession, and over one-fourth of the funds were channeled directly to firms with the primary goal of saving and creating jobs. These stimulus funds were sizable and valuable to firms, with the average grant awarded exceeding $500,000. With hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line, firms may have incentive to exert political influence… Are firms successful in influencing the allocation of stimulus spending? …This paper provides empirical answers… We find that firms’ campaign contributions to state politicians before the enactment of ARRA have a positive and significant impact on the probability of winning ARRA grants… We find that firms that contribute to winning candidates are 64 percent more likely to secure an ARRA grant and receive 10 percent larger grants. …The allocative distortion caused by political connections is sizable. Although only 6 percent of grant recipients contribute during local elections, they account for21 percent of total ARRA grants.

I feel like I need to take a shower after reading those results. Maybe I’m a political prude, but it galls me that politicians and interest groups have so much ability to fleece the rest of us.

And now you know what I refer to Washington as America’s “wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

The obvious takeaway from this research is that we’ll have less corruption if we have less government.

Which was my message in this video.

While I obviously like my video on the topic, I very much recommend this video interview with Andrew Ferguson.

P.S. Speaking of videos, here’s some satire about government corruption.

P.P.S. We shouldn’t be surprised that Obama’s so-called stimulus produced lots of corruption. The same was true with regards to Obamacare and green energy, which were his other main initiatives.

P.P.P.S. In the future, I’m sure we’ll see studies finding lots of corruption in Biden’s recent “stimulus” plan.

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One week ago, I shared five images that capture the essence of government.

Today, we have another collection, starting with a reminder of, in the words of Ronald Reagan, the most terrifying words in the English language.

Next, we have warning signs about all sorts of things, but not about the the biggest threat we face.

Our third item captures what happens over time as a small government becomes medium-sized government and then evolves into big government.

Here’s a succinct explanation of how government and organized crime are similar (though here’s a cartoon reminding us how they are different).

Here’s my favorite, though given the spending proclivities of many Republicans, it should simply read “politicians promising everything for ‘free’.”

You get the same message from this Glenn McCoy cartoon and this Michael Ramirez cartoon.

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I wrote two days ago about subsidized unemployment, followed later in the day by this interview.

This controversy raises a fundamental economic issue.

I explained in the interview that employers only hire people when they expect a new worker will generate at least enough revenue to cover the cost of employment.

There’s a similar calculation on the part of individuals, as shown by this satirical cartoon strip.

People decide to take jobs when they expect the additional after-tax income they earn will compensate them for the loss of leisure and/or the unpleasantness of working.

Which is why many people are now choosing not to work since the government has increased the subsidies for idleness (a bad policy that began under Trump).

The Wall Street Journal editorialized about this issue a couple of days ago.

White House economists say there’s no “measurable” evidence that the $300 federal unemployment bonus is discouraging unemployed people from seeking work. They were rebutted by Tuesday’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Jolts survey, which showed a record 8.1 million job openings in March. …But these jobs often pay less than what most workers could make on unemployment. That explains why the number of job openings in many industries increased more than the number of new hires in March. …The number of workers who quit their jobs also grew by 125,000. …some quitters may be leaving their jobs because they figure they can make more unemployed for the next six months after Democrats extended the bonus into September.

Dan Henninger also opined on the issue for the WSJ. Here’s some of what he wrote.

President Biden said, “People will come back to work if they’re paid a decent wage.” But what if he’s wrong? What if his $300 unemployment insurance bonus on top of the checks sent directly to millions of people (which began during the Trump presidency) turns out to be a big, long-term mistake? …Mr. Biden and the left expect these outlays effectively to raise the minimum wage by forcing employers to compete with Uncle Sam’s money. …Ideas have consequences. By making unemployment insurance competitive with market wage rates in a pandemic, the Biden Democrats may have done long-term damage to the American work ethic. …The welfare reforms of the 1990s were based on the realization that transfer payments undermined the work ethic. The Biden-Sanders Democrats are dropping that work requirement for recipients of cash payments.

Amen.

I made similar arguments about the erosion of the work ethic last year when discussing this issue.

And this concern applies to other forms of redistribution. Including, most notably, the foolish idea of big per-child handouts.

P.S. The WSJ editorial cited above mentioned the Labor Department’s JOLT data. Those numbers are also useful if you want proof that federal bureaucrats are overpaid, and you’ll also see that the same thing is true for state and local government employees.

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As a wonk, I prefer serious criticisms of government that focus on excessive spending, punitive tax rates, and pointless red tape.

But since I’ve never grown up, I also appreciate humor that mocks government.

So let’s enjoy a new collection of memes that target our overlords in Washington (these also apply to the politicians and bureaucrats in other national capitals, as well as those in state capitals and local government).

We’ll start with this four-frame summary of government.

For our second item, we have a cartoon that shows how government creates a big wedge between gross pay and take-home pay.

Needless to say, workers have less incentive to be productive in this system, which is why I often write boring columns about “deadweight loss.”

Next we have some of the warning signs of an abusive relationship, and some clever person added a bit of wisdom underneath.

At first, I thought this was an exaggeration, but then I realized it wasn’t difficult to think of a program or government activity that matches all 15 categories.

Our fourth item will make most sense to geology majors, but the rest of us can certainly understand the message in the final frame.

Indeed. Reminds me of Reagan’s 9-word warning.

Last but not least, my favorite item in today’s collection points out the eerie similarity between online scammers and political scammers.

The moral of the story is that you’ve asked a very weird question if government is the answer.

Makes you wonder if the “ancaps” actually have the right approach.

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My approach during the Trump years was very simple.

Other people, however, muted their views on policy because of their partisan or personal feelings about Trump.

I was very disappointed, for instance, that some Republicans abandoned (or at least downplayed) their support for free trade to accommodate Trump’s illiteracy on that issue.

But those people look like pillars of stability and principle compared to the folks who decided to completely switch their views.

Max Boot, for instance, is a former adviser on foreign policy to Republicans such as John McCain and Marco Rubio, who has decided that being anti-Trump means he should now act like a cheerleader for high taxes and big government.

Here’s some of what he wrote in a column for today’s Washington Post.

Republicans accuse President Biden of pursuing a radical agenda that will turn the United States into a failed socialist state. …It’s true that Biden is proposing a considerable amount of new spending… But those investments won’t turn us into North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela or the Soviet Union — all countries with government ownership of industry. …with proposals such as federally subsidized child care, elder care, family leave and pre-K education — financed with modest tax increases on corporations and wealthy individuals — Biden is merely moving us a bit closer to the kinds of government services that other wealthy, industrialized democracies already take for granted. …That’s far from radical. It’s simply sensible.

Part of the above excerpt makes sense. Biden is not proposing socialism, at least if we use the technical definition.

And he’s also correct that Biden isn’t trying to turn us into North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, or the Soviet Union.

But he does think it’s good that Biden wants to copy Europe’s high-tax welfare states.

…by most indexes we are an embarrassing international laggard. …the United States spends nearly twice as much on health care as a percentage of gross domestic product than do other wealthy countries… The United States is also alone among OECD nations in not having universal paid family leave. …Our level of income inequality is now closer to that of developing countries in Africa and Latin American than to our European allies. …it’s possible to combine a vibrant free market with generous social welfare spending. In fact, that’s the right formula for a more satisfied and stable society. In the OECD quality-of-life rankings — which include everything from housing to work-life balance — the United States ranks an unimpressive 10th.

Mr. Boot seem to think that it’s bad news that the United States ranks 10th out of 37 nations in the OECD’s so-called Better Life Index.

I wonder if he understands, however, that this index has serious methodological flaws – such as countries getting better scores if they have bigger subsidies that encourage unemployment? Or countries getting better scores if they have high tax rates that discourage labor supply?

But the real problem is that Boot seems oblivious to most important data, which shows that Americans enjoy far more prosperity than Europeans.

And he could have learned that with a few more clicks on the OECD’s website. He could have found the data on average individual consumption and discovered the huge gap between U.S. prosperity and European mediocrity.

The obvious takeaway is that big government causes deadweight loss and hinders growth (as honest folks on the left have always acknowledged).

P.S. I can’t resist nit-picking four other points in Boot’s column.

  1. As show by this Chuck Asay cartoon, you don’t magically make government spending productive simply be calling it an “investment.”
  2. Like beauty, the interpretation of “modest” may be in the eye of the beholder, but it certainly seems like “massive” is a better description of Biden’s proposed tax hikes.
  3. It’s worth noting that Europe became a relatively prosperous part of the world before governments adopted punitive income taxes and created big welfare states.
  4. America’s excessive spending on health is caused by third-party payer, which is caused by excessive government intervention.

P.P.S. I’ve wondered whether the OECD (subsidized by American taxpayers!) deliberately used dodgy measures when compiling the Better Life Index in part because of a desire to make the U.S. look bad compared to the European welfare states that dominate the organization’s membership? That certainly seems to have been the case when the OECD put together a staggeringly dishonest measure of poverty that made the U.S. seem like it had more destitution than poor countries such as Greece, Portugal, and Turkey.

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There are all sorts of long-running battles in the economics profession, perhaps most notably the never-ending dispute about Keynesian economics.

Another contentious issues is the degree to which society should accept less growth in order to achieve more equality, with Arthur Okun – author of Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff – being the most famous advocate for prioritizing equity.

I don’t agree with Okun, but I applaud him for honesty. Unlike many modern politicians, as well as most international bureaucracies (and even the occasional journalist), he didn’t pretend that big government was a free lunch.

Let’s take a closer look at this issue in today’s column.

We’ll start by perusing a working paper, published by Spain’s central bank, that explores the optimal tax rate for that nation. The author, Dario Serrano-Puente, concludes that society will be better off if tax rates are increased.

Many modern governments implement a redistributive fiscal policy, where personal income is taxed at an increasingly higher rate, while transfers tend to target the poorest households.In Spain there is an intense debate about…so-called “fiscal justice”, which is putting on the table a tax rate increase for the high-income earners… once the theoretical framework is defined, a bunch of potential progressivity reforms are assessed… Then a Benthamite social planner, who takes into account all households in the economy by putting the same weight on each of them, discerns the optimal progressivity reform. The findings suggest that aggregate social welfare is maximized when the level of progressivity of the Spanish personal income tax is increased to some extent. More precisely,in the optimally reformed scenario (setting the optimal level of progressivity), welfare gains are equivalent to an average increase of 3.08% of consumption.

I have a fundamental problem with the notion of government acting as a “Benthamite social planner,” but I don’t want to address that issue today.

Instead, I want to applaud Senor Serrano-Puente because he openly acknowledges that higher tax rates and more redistribution will lead to less growth.

Here’s some of what he wrote about that tradeoff.

For each reformed economy evaluated in the progressivity gridτ={0.00, …,0.50}, the main macroeconomic aggregates are calculated. …the evolution of these magnitudes on progressivity is depicted in Figure 4. Broadly speaking, it is clear that aggregate capital and output are decreasing in progressivity in a (almost) linear pathway, with the drop in capital being more pronounced than in output. …aggregate consumption and aggregate labor are also decreasing in progressivity.

Here’s a look at the aforementioned Figure 4, and it is easy to see that the economy suffers as progressivity increases.

Kudos, again, to the author for acknowledging the tradeoff between equity and efficiency. But applauding the author for honesty is not the same as applauding the author’s judgement.

Simply stated, he is trying to justify a policy that will hurt poor people in the long run. That’s because even small differences in growth can have a big effect over time.

Let’s illustrate how this works with a chart showing the life-time earnings of a hypothetical low-income Spaniard.

  • The orange line shows how much money the workers gets if he starts with an extra 3.08 percent of income thanks to higher taxes and additional redistribution, but the economy grows 2.0 percent per year.
  • The blue line shows income for the same worker, which starts at a lower level because tax rates have not been increased to fund additional redistribution, but the economy grows 2.2 percent per year..

As you can see, that low-income worker is a net beneficiary of bigger government for about 10 years. But as time goes on, the worker would be far better off with smaller government and faster growth.

Different assumptions will lead to different results, of course. My goal is simply to help readers understand two things.

P.S. To illustrate the high cost of big government, let’s shift from hypothetical examples to real-world data. Most relevant, OECD data shows that the average low-income person in the United States is better off than the average middle-class person in Spain.

P.P.S. The study cited above considers what happens if Spanish politicians raise taxes on the rich. That would be a mistake, as illustrated by the chart, but let’s not forget that Spanish politicians also over-tax low-income people.

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We can learn a lot by looking at economic history.

It’s instructive to note, for instance, that the United States evolved from agricultural poverty to middle-class prosperity in the 1800s – during a time when the burden of government spending was trivially small.

Federal spending that century, on average, consumed less than 5 percent of the country’s economic output, meaning we had a public sector far smaller that what is found today in supposedly small-government jurisdictions such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

There’s a lesson to be gleaned from America’s rise to prosperity, in my humble opinion, as well as from similar experiences in Western Europe.

But not everybody sees history the same way. Earlier this month, David Brooks opined in the New York Times in favor of Biden’s spending binge.

Given his long-standing opposition to libertarianism/small-government conservatism, that’s not a big surprise. But what is noteworthy is that he argued Biden’s statism is part of the American tradition.

What is the quintessential American act? It is the leap of faith. …The early days of the Biden administration are nothing if not a daring leap. …What is this thing, Bidenomics? …democracy needs to remind the world that it, too, can solve big problems. Democracy needs to stand up and show that we are still the future. …Cecilia Rouse, the chair of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, …said…“the private sector…is not best suited to deliver certain public goods like work force training and infrastructure investment,” she told me. “These are places where there is market failure, which creates a role for government.” …Some people say this is like the New Deal. I’d say this is an updated, monster-size version of “the American System,” the 19th-century education and infrastructure investments inspired by Alexander Hamilton, championed by Henry Clay and then advanced by the early Republicans, like Abraham Lincoln. That was an unabashedly nationalist project, made by a youthful country, using an energetic government to secure two great goals: economic dynamism and national unity.

The column concludes that we have to make this leap to deal with a threat from China.

Sometimes you take a risk to shoot forward. The Chinese are convinced they own the future. It’s worth taking this shot to prove them wrong.

But Mr. Brooks is wrong. We’re not taking a daring leap into the unknown with Biden’s agenda.

We’re copying Western Europe.

And that means we have lots of data showing what that means for our future. Unfortunately, it means Americans will enjoy less income and suffer from lower living standards.

At the risk of understatement, that doesn’t seem like a good idea.

P.S. I also can’t resist pointing out that there are several small points in Brooks’ column that cry out for correction, such as the anti-empirical assertions that government job training is a good idea or that government intervention in the 1800s produced good results.

P.P.S. I’m also baffled that so many people view China as a successful economic model when living standards in that nation are only about one-fifth of American levels.

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There’s a growing controversy about whether the various coronavirus-lockdown rules should be relaxed for people who have been vaccinated (as opposed to being relaxed for hypocritical politicians).

And if those restrictions are relaxed, vaccinated people presumably will need some sort of proof, like a “vaccine passport.”

Many people understandably are hesitant about this concept, particularly if government is involved. After all, we have many examples of seemingly innocuous ideas becoming nightmarish mistakes (such as adopting the income tax).

And the last thing any of us would want (I hope!) is something that could devolve into an authoritarian, Chinese-style system for monitoring and controlling private life.

But what if government isn’t involved? What if private businesses decide that customers are only allowed if they prove they’ve been vaccinated?

From a libertarian perspective, guided by core principles such as property rights and freedom of association, that should be totally acceptable.

And that’s true even if we think the owners of the businesses are making silly choices. After all, it’s their property.

Some conservatives, however, either don’t understand libertarian principles or they’re willing to abandon those principles for political convenience.

For instance, Will Wilkinson observes that many Republicans are forgetting the libertarian principle of freedom of association.

Conservatives have been freaking out about the mere possibility of vaccine passports… The idea is that the ability to credibly prove vaccination status will speed the restoration of normal social and economic life. This works by allowing businesses, schools, sports leagues, etc. to discriminate against those who haven’t been vaccinated. …one of the bright lines dividing American liberals and conservatives concerns the limits of freedom of association. Conservatives, and especially those with a libertarian streak, are far more likely to be absolutists about the right to exclude anyone from your property, business, or private club or association for any reason. …If the Civil Rights Act is problematic because it infringes on freedom of association, the permissibility of discriminating against customers who might carry a fatal infection is a total no-brainer. Right? Ha! …there is no actual principle at work here. Conservatives are consistent only in their opportunistic incoherence.

Moreover, in his column for the Atlantic, David Frum notes that the GOP is hypocritically abandoning its support for property rights.

Whether vaccine passports ever will exist remains highly uncertain. A lot of questions remain about the technology required—and about whether the concept makes any business sense. …For now, then, the discussion about vaccine passports remains theoretical—which makes the discussion all the more impassioned and embittered. DeSantis and others are loudly advertising that with COVID-19, …their version of freedom puts greater priority on right-wing cultural folkways than on rights of property and ownership. …To appease those cultural blocs, Republican politicians must be willing to sacrifice everything, including what used to be the party’s foundational principles. …to avoid contradicting the delusions of anti-vaccine paranoiacs, property rights must give way, freedom to operate a business must yield. …with COVID-19, …the new post-Trump message from the post-Trump GOP is: Private property is socialism; state expropriation is freedom. It’s a strange doctrine for a party supposedly committed to liberty and the Constitution, but here we are.

I think it’s fair to say that neither Wilkinson nor Frum are libertarians, or even conservatives, but I also think they are correct in pointing out that there is a lot of hypocrisy and incoherence.

That being said, I am glad that there’s lots of resistance to the idea of vaccine passports. Why? Because if businesses impose such rules and there’s no pushback, that probably increases the likelihood that politicians will try something similar.

And that’s where libertarians should be drawing the line, as Professor Don Boudreaux has noted.

After all, if a business does something we don’t like, we are free to patronize competitors. But if government does something we don’t like, there’s the horrible choice of obey or go to jail (or get a fake passport on the black market).

For what it’s worth, I hope this becomes a moot point. After all, once everybody who wants to get vaccinated has been vaccinated, there’s no plausible argument for maintaining any more restrictions on normal life.

P.S. But if it does become a real issue, it will probably generate new jokes, cartoons, and memes, all of which will require me to expand my collection of coronavirus-themed humor.

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The International Monetary Fund’s dogmatic support for higher taxes and bigger government makes it “the dumpster fire of the global economy.”

Wherever IMF bureaucrats go, it seems they push for high-tax policies that will weaken growth.

Call me crazy, but I’m baffled that the IMF seems to think nations will grow faster and be more prosperous if politicians seize more money from the economy’s productive sector.

Unfortunately, the IMF has been especially active in recent months..

In a column for the U.K.-based Guardian, Larry Elliott writes about the IMF using the pandemic as an excuse to push for higher taxes.

…the IMF called for domestic and international tax changes that would boost the money available to expand public services, make welfare states more generous… “To help meet pandemic-related financing needs, policymakers could consider a temporary Covid-19 recovery contribution, levied on high incomes or wealth,” the fiscal monitor said. …Paolo Mauro, the deputy director of the IMF’s fiscal affairs department, said there had been an “erosion” of the taxes paid by those at the top of the income scale, with the pandemic offering a chance to claw some of the money back. “Governments could consider higher taxes on property, capital gains and inheritance,” he said. “One specific option would be a Covid-19 recovery contribution – a surcharge on personal tax or corporate income tax.”

Mr. Mauro, like most IMF bureaucrats, is at “the top of the income scale,” but he doesn’t have to worry that he’ll be adversely impact if politicians seek to “claw some of the money back.”

Why? Because IMF officials get tax-free salaries (just like their counterparts at other international bureaucracies).

Writing for the IMF’s blog, Mr. Mauro is joined by David Amaglobeli and Vitor Gaspar in supporting higher taxes on other people.

Breaking the cycle of inequality requires both predistributive and redistributive policies. …The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the vital importance of a good social safety net that can be quickly activated to provide lifelines to struggling families. …Enhancing access to basic public services will require additional resources, which can be mobilized, depending on country circumstances, by strengthening overall tax capacity. Many countries could rely more on property and inheritance taxes.  Countries could also raise tax progressivity as some governments have room to increase top marginal personal income tax rates… Moreover, governments could consider levying temporary COVID-19 recovery contributions as supplements to personal income taxes for high-income households.

Needless to say, the IMF is way off base in fixating on inequality instead of trying to reduce poverty.

Meanwhile, Brian Cheung reports for Yahoo Finance about the IMF’s cheerleading for a global tax cartel.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says it backs a U.S. proposal for a global minimum corporate tax. IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath said that the fund has been calling for international cooperation on tax policy “for a long time,” adding that different corporate tax rates around the world have fueled tax shifting and avoidance. “That reduces the revenues that governments collect to do the needed social and economic spending,” Gopinath told Yahoo Finance Tuesday. “We’re very much in support of having this kind of global minimum corporate tax.” …Gopinath also backed Yellen’s push forward on an aggressive infrastructure bill… As the IMF continues to encourage countries with fiscal room to continue spending through the recovery, its chief economist said investment into infrastructure is one way to boost economic activity.

Based on the above stories we can put together a list of the tax increases embraced by the IMF, all justified by what I call “fairy dust” economics.

  • Higher income tax rates.
  • Higher property taxes.
  • More double taxation of saving/investment.
  • Higher death taxes.
  • Wealth taxes.
  • Global tax cartel.
  • Higher consumption taxes.

And don’t forget the IMF is a long-time supporter of big energy taxes.

All supported by bureaucrats who are exempt from paying tax on their own very-comfortable salaries.

P.S. I feel sorry for two groups of people. First, I have great sympathy for taxpayers in nations that follow the IMF’s poisonous advice. Second, I feel sorry for the economists and other professionals at the IMF (who often produce highquality research). They must wince with embarrassment every time garbage recommendations are issued by the political types in charge of the bureaucracy.

P.P.S. But since they’re actually competent, they will easily find new work if we shut down the IMF to protect the world economy.

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I get asked why I frequently criticize Republicans.

My response is easy. I care about results rather than rhetoric. And while GOP politicians often pay lip service to the principles of limited government, they usually increase spending even faster than Democrats.

Indeed, Republicans are even worse than Democrats when measuring the growth of domestic spending!

This is bad news because it means the burden of government expands when Republicans are in charge.

And, as Gary Abernathy points out in a column for the Washington Post, Republicans then don’t have the moral authority to complain when Democrats engage in spending binges.

President Biden is proposing another $3 trillion in spending… There are objections, but none that can be taken seriously. …Republicans had lost their standing as the party of fiscal responsibility when most of them succumbed to the political virus of covid fever and rubber-stamped around $4 trillion in “covid relief,”… With Trump out and Biden in, Republicans suddenly pretended that their 2020 spending spree happened in some alternate universe. But the GOP’s united opposition to Biden’s $1.9 trillion package won’t wash off the stench of the hypocrisy. …I noted a year ago that we had crossed the Rubicon, that our longtime flirtation with socialism had become a permanent relationship. Congratulations, Bernie Sanders. The GOP won’t become irrelevant because of its association with Trump, as some predict. It will diminish because it is bizarrely opposing now that which it helped make palatable just last year. Fiscal responsibility is dead, and Republicans helped bury it. Put the shovels away, there’s no digging it up now.

For what it’s worth, I hope genuine fiscal responsibility isn’t dead.

Maybe it’s been hibernating ever since Reagan left office (like Pepperidge Farm, I’m old enough to remember those wonderful years).

Subsequent Republican presidents liked to copy Reagan’s rhetoric, but they definitely didn’t copy his policies.

  • Spending restraint was hibernating during the presidency of George H.W. Bush.
  • Spending restraint also was hibernating during the presidency of George W. Bush.
  • And spending restraint was hibernating during the presidency of Donald Trump.

I’m not the only one to notice GOP hypocrisy.

Here are some excerpts from a 2019 column in the Washington Post by Fareed Zakaria.

In what Republicans used to call the core of their agenda — limited government — Trump has been profoundly unconservative. …Trump has now added more than $88 billion in taxes in the form of tariffs, according to the right-leaning Tax Foundation. (Despite what the president says, tariffs are taxes on foreign goods paid by U.S. consumers.) This has had the effect of reducing gross domestic product and denting the wages of Americans. …For decades, conservatives including Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan preached to the world the virtues of free trade. But perhaps even more, they believed in the idea that governments should not pick winners and losers in the economy… Yet the Trump administration…behaved like a Central Planning Agency, granting exemptions on tariffs to favored companies and industries, while refusing them to others. …In true Soviet style, lobbyists, lawyers and corporate executives now line up to petition government officials for these treasured waivers, which are granted in an opaque process… On the core issue that used to define the GOP — economics — the party’s agenda today is state planning and crony capitalism.

Zakaria is right about Republicans going along with most of Trump’s bad policies (as illustrated by this cartoon strip).*

The bottom line is that Republicans would be much more effective arguing against Biden’s spending orgy had they also argued for spending restraint when Trump was in the White House.

P.S. It will be interesting to see what happens in the near future. Will the GOP be a small-government Reagan party or a big-government Trump party?

Or maybe it will go back to being a Nixon-type party, which would mean bigger government but without mean tweets. And there are plenty of options.

If they make the wrong choice (anything other than Reaganism), Margaret Thatcher has already warned us about the consequences.

*To be fair, Republicans also went along with Trump’s good policies. It’s just unfortunate that spending restraint wasn’t one of them.

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I’ve authored a five-part series about coronavirus and the failure of big government (hereherehere, here, and here), as well as columns specifically highlighting the failures of the FDA, CDC, and WHO bureaucracies.

Today, let’s look at how free enterprise came to the rescue when government barriers were reduced. Starting with this video.

To elaborate on this message, millions of lives are now being saved because pharmaceutical companies have produced multiple vaccines.

I even got my first shot yesterday before leaving town for a softball tournament.

Will this save my life? I like to think I’m reasonably healthy and would have survived if I caught the virus, but I’m very happy to now put that possibility in the rear-view mirror.

So I’m feeling very happy that I live in a nation where private companies, in their pursuit of profits, have had a big incentive to produce vaccines.

Yes, I realize the government dumped a bunch of taxpayer money into vaccine production, so I don’t want to pretend Uncle Sam played no role. But I also have great faith that the profit motive would have led to vaccines being developed regardless.

And we would have had the vaccines even sooner if the FDA was even better about getting out of the way.

Allysia Finley celebrated capitalism’s key role in a recent column for the Wall Street Journal. Here’s some of what she wrote about the decades of research and investment that enabled pharmaceutical companies to deliver miracles for humanity.

Large corporations are political villains, derided on the left and right. Yet the main, and perhaps only, reason the Covid-19 scourge is easing is vaccines developed by Big Pharma. …There are…lessons for those who think capitalism is merely about rapacious profit. “We would never be in the position where we are today if we had not invested billions of dollars over decades so that we could respond,” Mr. Gorsky, 60, says in an interview… J&J’s vaccine is the third to obtain FDA approval, but preliminary results from trials on AstraZeneca and Novavax suggest they are also highly effective. All these Covid-19 vaccines use innovative technologies that have been developed and tested over decades on other diseases. …The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines inject the virus’s genetic code via mRNA… It seems like an incredible stroke of luck and science that we have so many Covid-19 vaccines so soon. But it’s more than that. Credit years of research and investment by drug makers… “I think this is a golden moment, not only for Johnson & Johnson, but the biopharmaceutical industry,” he says. “We fundamentally believe that having a market-based, innovation-based, biopharmaceutical as well as a medical-technology environment, is critical long term to produce the best overall outcomes for healthcare.”

There are a couple of big lessons for today.

The first lesson, as shown in the video, is that we can save lives by permanently reducing bureaucratic red tape at bureaucracies such as the Food and Drug Administration.

The second lesson is that we should celebrate the profit motive. The desire to make a buck is what drives companies to produce goods and services that make our lives better.

And one takeaway of that second lesson is that we should reject short-sighted policies such as European-style price controls on drug companies. Such an approach would undermine our ability to deal with future pandemics and also reduce the likelihood of new and improved treatments for things such as cancer, dementia, and heart disease.

P.S. I like pharmaceutical companies when they are being honest participants in a free market. I don’t like them when they get in bed with big government.

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I’ve been warning that the United States should not copy Europe’s fiscal policy, largely because living standards are significantly lower in nations with large welfare states.

That’s true if you look at average levels of consumption in different nations, but the most compelling data is the fact that lower-income people in the United States generally enjoy living standards that are equal to or even higher than those for middle-class people in most European countries.

A bigger burden of government is not just a theoretical concern. President Biden has already pushed through a $1.9 trillion spending bill that includes some temporary provisions – such as per-child handouts – that, if made permanent, could add several trillion dollars to the burden of government spending.

And the White House has signaled support for $3 trillion of additional spending for items such as infrastructure, green energy, and other boondoggles.

This doesn’t even count the cost of other schemes, such as the “public option” that would strangle private health insurance and force more people to rely on an already-costly-and-and bankrupt government program.

So what will it mean for America if our medium-sized welfare state morphs into a European-style large welfare state?

The answer to that question is rather unpleasant, at least if some new research from the Congressional Budget Office is any indication. The study, authored by Jaeger Nelson and Kerk Phillips, considers the impact on growth based on six different scenarios (based on how much the spending burden increases and what taxes are increased).

If permanent spending is financed by new or increased taxes, then those taxes influence people’s decisions about how much to work and save. Those decisions then affect how much the economy produces and businesses invest and, ultimately, how much people can consume. Different types of taxes have different economic effects. Taxes on labor income reduce after-tax wages, so they reduce the return on each additional hour worked. …Higher taxes on capital income, such as dividends and capital gains, lower the average after-tax rate of return on private wealth holdings (or the return on investment), which reduces the incentive to save and invest and leads to reductions in saving, investment, and the capital stock. …we compare the effects of raising additional revenues through three illustrative tax policies: a flat tax on labor income, a flat tax on all income (including both labor and capital income), and a progressive tax on all income. The additional revenues generated by these policies are in addition to the revenues raised by taxes that already exist and are used to finance two specific increases in government spending. The two increases in government spending are set to 5 percent and 10 percent of GDP in 2020.

Here are some of the key results, as illustrated by the chart.

The least-worst result (the blue line) is a decline in GDP of about 3 percent, and that happens if the spending burden expand by 5-percentage points of GDP and is financed by a flat tax.

The worst-worst result (dashed red line) is a staggering decline in GDP of about 10 percent, and that happens if the spending burden climbs by 10-percentage points and is financed by a progressive tax.

Here’s some additional analysis, including a description of why progressive taxes impose the most damage.

This paper shows that flat labor and flat income tax policies have similar effects on output; labor taxes reduce the labor supply more, and income taxes reduce the capital stock more. For all three policies, the decline in income contracts the tax base considerably over time. As a result, to continuously generate enough revenues to finance the increase in government spending in each year, tax rates must steadily increase over time to account for the decline in the tax base. Moreover, labor and capital taxes put upward pressure on interest rates by reducing the capital-to-labor ratio over time… The largest declines in economic activity among the financing methods considered occur with the progressive tax on all income. Those declines occur because high-productivity workers reduce their hours worked and because higher taxes on asset income reduce the incentive to save and invest relatively more than under the two flat taxes.

There’s lots of additional information in the study, but I definitely want to draw attention to Table 4 because it shows that lower-income people will suffer big reductions in living standards if there’s an increase in the burden of government spending (circled in red).

What makes these results especially remarkable is that the authors only look at the damage caused by higher taxes.

Yet we know from other research that the economy also will suffer because of the higher spending burden. This is because of the various ways that growth is reduced when resources are diverted from the productive sector to the government.

For background, here’s a video on the theoretical reasons why government spending hinders growth.

And here’s a video with some of the scholarly evidence.

P.S. The CBO study also points out that financing new spending with a value-added tax wouldn’t avert economic damage.

…by reducing the cost of time spent not working for pay relative to other goods, a consumption tax could reduce hours worked through a channel like that of a tax on labor.

For what it’s worth, even the pro-tax International Monetary Fund agrees with this observation.

P.P.S. It’s worth noting that the CBO study also shows that young people will suffer much more than older people.

…older cohorts, on average, experience smaller declines in lifetime consumption than younger cohorts

Which raises an interesting question of why millennials and Gen-Zers don’t appreciate capitalism and instead are sympathetic to the dirigiste ideology that will make their lives more difficult.

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